By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
SEATTLE — They couldn’t celebrate fast enough.
Jason Bay’s broken-bat bloop single to left field had barely touched the green grass of the Safeco Field outfield, and Kendrys Morales hadn’t quite touched home plate with the winning run, but the Seattle Mariners were spilling out of their dugout in ecstasy.
When you’ve lost eight straight games and were staring directly at a ninth straight loss for four nail-biting extra innings, elation is easy to find in victory.
The Mariners’ 4-3 win over the Texas Rangers in 13 innings on Sunday might not start a winning streak. But it stopped a frustrating, emotionally draining eight-game skid that had the team nudging toward the thought of the season being over before June 1.
While players and managers often downplay wins and losses in the marathon that is a 162-game season, the Mariners weren’t afraid to admit how much they wanted and needed a victory to stop the losing — if even for just a day.
“It’s probably bigger than people will let on,” Bay said. “Just with the struggles we’ve been going through. Our bench was the most enthusiastic it’s been all week. I think everybody in the dugout collectively felt a sense of urgency.”
Even Seattle manager Eric Wedge admitted there was a chance for his team to exhale and not have the losing streak looming over its head.
“It’s been a tough week,” Wedge said. “We’ve got a good group of guys out there that are grinding and fighting and not giving into it. A lot of breaks have gone against us this week, we’ve got guys who are working to try to get where they need to be to help us win games. We’ve got a lot going on out there. And this was a great win for us.”
For much of Sunday, there was an impending sense that it wouldn’t happen.
Seattle trailed 2-0 after five innings, doing little against Texas starter Nick Tepesch as the 23,154 in attendance bristled at the lack of offense with each out.
Morales put the Mariners right back into the game with one swing of the bat, crushing a two-run homer to right-center off of Tepesch in the sixth inning to tie the score.
“There was a guy on third and I had to get him in,” Morales said through a translator. “I got the ball up high enough to hit a home run, but I wasn’t trying to hit a home run. I was just wanted to get the guy in from third.”
The Mariners missed on opportunities to break the 2-2 tie and win the game in the eight and ninth innings and looked like they might lose it in the 11th inning. Pinch-hitter Elvis Andrus singled off Carter Capps to start the inning. Andrus moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Texas manager Ron Washington called on left-handed-hitting pinch-hitter A.J. Pierzynski. Wedge countered with lefty Oliver Perez out of the bullpen. But the left on left advantage didn’t help. Pierzynski dumped a single into left field to score Andrus put the Rangers up 3-2.
A ninth-straight loss was imminent.
In the bottom of the 11th, Texas closer Joe Nathan came on seeking his 17th save, having converted his first 16 save chances this season. But 17 never came for Nathan. Raul Ibanez jumped on the first pitch he saw — a 91-mph fastball — and crushed a line drive over the wall in right field for his ninth homer of the season to tie the score.
“That’s what he does,” Wedge said. “He’s one of the best clutch hitters in the game as far as I’m concerned. He has a great heartbeat. He knows himself so well. He wants to be up in those situations. It kept us going. He really stepped up for us.”
There is no secret to what Ibanez was trying to do up there.
“I think you just have the mindset of getting a good pitch to hit and not try to do too much with it — just barrel it up,” Ibanez said. “Fortunately I was able to get that pitch and get it airborne.”
It looked as though the Mariner had the game won later in the inning. Bay hit a towering fly ball to left-center that David Murphy made a leaping catch at the wall to end the inning. Would it have gone out? Maybe. But it would have been an extra base hit for certain if not for Murphy.
“That’s the question of the day,” Bay said. “It was one of those ones that was a maybe off the bat and this park doesn’t reward maybe.”
After Seattle reliever Yoervis Medina wiggled out of a situation with runners on first and third with one out in the 13th without allowing a run, the Mariners finally won it in the bottom of the 13th. Morales delivered a one-out double to right-center off Ross Wolf. He advanced to third on Carlo Triunfel’s ground ball back to the mound. Bay stepped up and went after the first pitch — a fastball — getting just enough of it to send it into left field, but breaking his bat.
“It was the first time they threw me a first pitch fastball and I was looking for a breaking ball,” Bay said. “Funny how the game works out, you break your bat when you fly out to 375 and get nothing. And you break bat on a soft liner and it wins the game.”
Bay knew how much the team needed the hit and the win.
“To come through, especially with the way we’ve been playing, it feels great not just for me, but for everybody, not just for me but a lot of people,” he said. “It was a big sigh of relief for a lot of people.”
The normally stoic Bay even had a big fist pump as he sprinted to first and a big smile as he was pummeled by teammates.
“It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done it — once or 500 — having a walk-off hit, whether it’s a homer or a blooper, it’s pretty cool,” he said. “I think everybody was feeling it.”
Medina picked up his first career win in relief, pitching 12⁄3 innings, allowing one hit with two walks and two strikeouts.